At Prescot Grammar School
Liverpool is a very special place and for me holds many fond memories. It was where I was born, grew up and spent my formative years. My family was typical of many of that generation, stable and conventional, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all living in or around the City. My father was self employed and hard working and provided the family with a comfortable, but unpretentious life style. My mother too was hard working attending to the house and family. My sister was three years older than me and I was born at home in March 1940 - consequently I was a 'Blitz Baby'. I can still remember the sound of sirens and the drone of aircraft during the war, and of nights spent in the dank shelter built in the garden of our house.
The years after the war were a period of recovery, both for the City and its citizens. Young as I was I felt there was a spirit of optimism and a bright future ahead. I am sure that this was a result of encouragement from my parents and the cohesion of our family. Having progressed through Primary School in Roby (now Huyton with Roby) I gained a place at Prescot Grammar school following the 11 plus examinations. I started Secondary education here in the Autumn Term of 1951. The school was founded in 1544 and the motto was 'Futuram Civitatem Inquirimus' - 'We seek a Future State.' It is a motto that I think of often.
The school was to me, aged 11, very large. Located off the road to St Helens and bounded by a sandstone wall it was approached through iron gates and a large playground area. The school buildings were faced with timber boarding stained black set on a brick plinth. Windows and doorframes were gloss white and the pitched roofs faced with clay tiles. Beyond the woodwork studio and the canteen lay the cricket, hockey and football pitches, which seemed to stretch into eternity.
Having existed for over 400 years the school had its traditions and was conservative in its approach. The Headmaster, Mr Briggs, always wore a 'mortar board' and the teachers their University gowns. Each class sat in alphabetical order commencing with the front row and reading from left to right facing the blackboard - Aikman, Allanson, Badley, Ball, Cox, Cutter… the register rang out each morning the S, T, V's and W's were all at the back. Academic subjects, including the Classics were the order of the day and the Careers Master (who also happened to teach Latin) majored on Law, Medicine, Accountancy and of course Teaching.
Whilst the Arts and Handicrafts curriculae appeared to take second place both of these subjects were taught by exceptional teachers, Reg Walters for Art and Cyril Davies for Woodwork. Each academic year, numbering some 100 pupils, was broken down into three forms, namely a, b and c. It was a simple streaming process that roughly graded the classes to help the cleverer ones to advance and adopt alternative approach for lesser mortals. Stuart Sutcliffe and I were contemporaries and experienced five years of Grammar School life together.
Stuart was born in Edinburgh also in 1940. I understood that his father was a seaman and was away from home quite a lot. He was slight of build and wore glasses. He made up for his stature by being quite assertive in his attitudes and opinions, which sometimes made him a target for the bigger boys in the class. This scenario would sometimes be acted out in the back rows of the classrooms, when the teacher's back was turned or in the playgrounds during morning or afternoon recess. His defence against this mild form of bullying was to befriend myself and my best friend at the time, David Aikman. David and I set next to each other in class and saw quite a lot of each other after school. Our personalities clicked and we always saw the funny side of life. We did not have any trouble with the bigger boys - since we tended to get out of scrapes with our humour - whereas Stuart always tended to take up the argument. He befriended David and I from the beginning and looked upon us as his protectors. There was safety in numbers! He became so grateful one year that he gave each of us a present at the end of term. I can't remember what David received but I was given a book on golf titled 'Homes of Sport - Golf' which I still have. Stuart knew that I was becoming keen on the game.
By the time we reached the fifth form all the pupils with a tendency towards the Arts were in Form VB. This included Aikman, Cox, England, Horton, Lytham, Sutcliffe, and others including myself who were all pretty good at Art. Stuart had a particular fixation on war subjects at the time, with German soldiers, tanks and explosions being prominent in his work. Much use was made of lamp black contrasting with chrome yellow in his compositions.
Reg Walters, the Art Master would say that collectively form VB contained an amazing amount of talent, a quite exceptional concentration, which he would often extol. Whether it was because of this, or the fact that successive years proved to be much weaker in this regard I do not know, but Reg Walters retired after 11 years at Prescot Grammar School in 1960, to take up a position at St David's, Pembrokeshire, his native land.
Following the completion of the School Certificate examinations in the summer of 1955, the members of Form VB went their different ways. Those that intended to continue with their education and perhaps seek a place in University stayed on at Grammar School and entered the sixth form. Others were keen to start apprenticeships or work and earn some money in various trades and left. David Aikman joined BICC and helped to electrify the railways between Liverpool and London. Michael Cox recorded a pop song, which went into the charts. I cannot recall what happened to the other pupils who left at that time. Stuart on the other hand wanted to go to Art School and paint. He was offered a place at the Liverpool College of Art. I believe it was for a three-year course.
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